10 Strategies to Prevent the Holiday Bulge

7. Try recipe modification

Many people fret about a cooking disaster when preparing a large meal during the holidays and therefore don't want to experiment with new ingredients. But often times these new ingredients enhance both the nutritional value and the flavor of the dish.

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For example, I prepared a batch of muffins using a traditional recipe with oil and another batch substituting applesauce for the oil. Of course the recipe modification enhanced the nutritional value of the muffins, but the tasters actually rated the flavor and overall satisfaction of the modified muffin recipe higher than the traditional recipe.

So, making modifications of your favorite recipes can make the dish healthier, and perhaps even tastier. To avoid a potential cooking disaster, you can always practice the modified recipe before the big day. Click here for some healthy Thanksgiving recipes to help enhance the nutritional value of your holiday menu.

8. Beware of liquid calories, especially alcohol

Be careful, those liquid calories can add up quickly (see Table 1). Alcohol actually contains almost as many calories per gram as fat (seven calories vs. nine calories per gram). Combine the alcohol with creamy or sweet mixtures, and you get even more calories. Alcohol also tends to lower our inhibitions, which means you'll be less careful about what and how much you indulge at the party. So instead of reaching for the bubbly, rotate a non-caloric drink like diet soda, water or spritzer into the mix. That way you'll be able to allocate more of your calorie budget on the delicious holiday foods you enjoy.

Table 1: Calories Found in Alcoholic Beverages

Beverage Serving size Calories
Beer 12 ounces 160
Light Beer 12 ounces 100
Non-alcoholic Beer 12 ounces 32
Red Wine 4 ounces 85
White Wine 4 ounces 80
Wine Cooler 8 ounces 120
Daiquiri 4 ounces 225
Margarita 4 ounces 270
Gin and tonic 4 ounces 150
Pina colada 4 ounces 262


9. Don't "hang out" at the appetizer table when socializing at a party

It's hard to believe how much those small handfuls of munchies add up at a party. I observed a stranger's eating habits while socializing at a holiday party to see what kind of calories we're capable of consuming before the holiday meal. The following appetizers were consumed in the two hours before the meal:

4 rye crackers with ~1/2 ounce of soft cheese
3 bunches of grapes
3 handfuls of mixed nuts
2 glasses of wine
1 handful M&Ms with nuts
2 pieces broccoli with ~1 Tbsp cream cheese dip


Total: 1,209 calories, 60 g fat, 28 g protein, 110 g carbohydrate

This adds up, especially when you consider these totals make up approximately half the total daily calories needed by the average active person. In my observation, it appeared that people who were socializing away from the appetizer tables were less apt to subconsciously pick at the food. Instead, they filled one small plate of food and then called it quits. Make a conscious effort to position yourself away from the hors d'oeuvres at a holiday function.

10. Use a journal to monitor your training and nutrition

One of the best ways to track your fitness program is with a training log, and the same holds true for your food intake. As a registered dietitian, I've found that my most successful clients are those who actually take the time to monitor both their training and food intake in a daily log. It not only makes you accountable to yourself on a daily basis, but it's also a great way to develop nutritional goals for yourself and determine which eating patterns improve your energy levels and help enhance your overall performance.

Above all, don't punish yourself if you do tend to overindulge at a holiday function. Chances are those extra calories will serve as fuel for your next activity. If you try starving yourself to compensate, you'll most likely overcompensate on some of the less-healthy indulgences that are readily available during the holidays. Rather than fretting about food, learn to focus on the social aspects of this special time of year, enjoying the company of friends and family. Happy holidays!


Kim Mueller, M.S., R.D., is a registered sports nutritionist and competitive endurance athlete who provides nutritional counseling and customized meal planning to athletes worldwide. For more information, visit www.kbnutrition.com, or e-mail Kim at kim@kbnutrition.com.

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